improve pain

Rx'ing the WOD

The good, the bad & the ugly behind striving for Rx in a workout.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.26.34 PM.png

Topic: striving for Rx in a WOD.

Do we or don’t we?? Why? Why not? What does it do for us? And why do we care? Why should a coach care? Why should other athletes care?

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.29.05 PM.png

To perform a workout as Rx means

that you completed the workout as written (prescribed) without any modifications to the weight or movements. When we set this standard, we are not stating that this should be every athlete’s goal or even that it is recommended. Instead, it is a benchmark (often a difficult one) that is meant to be something that athletes can compare themselves against and, if appropriate, perhaps strive for.

It allows a coach to fairly judge one athlete against another and for an athlete to see where they stand against a standard (not the only standard, but an important standard). By having this clear standard, all athletes are compared against set requirements for the Rx status.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.29.05 PM.png

To hand out the Rx status, coaches are looking for an athlete to:

Screen Shot 2019-05-02 at 8.30.46 PM.png
  • use the prescribed weights

  • perform the prescribed movements

  • meet the movement standards of each exercise (examples, wall ball hits target, full depth squat, two revolutions of rope with double unders, standing up at the top of a clean before returning bar to start)

  • execute quality, safe movement that doesn’t leave their coach (or other athletes) wondering if they are hitting the movement standards

  • repeat repetitions that did not meet the above standards

Additionally, in some circles, it is thought that you shouldn’t receive the Rx label if you didn’t finish the workout under the time cap if there is one. Read more here.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.34.23 PM.png

Ok, so now, the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY behind striving for this Rx status.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.29.05 PM.png

the good


This is exactly what we want to see in Crossfit. Drive to improve. Drive to be better. Intention. Rx is something to strive for. It is an amazing feat and should be celebrated. Grit, persistence and hard work are all important in this sport and for many athletes, these qualities will help them achieve that Rx level!


Goals are a huge part of Crossfit – this allows continued interest, motivation and progress. As adults (the average Crossfitter is between 24-34 years old), it is important to have goals and aspirations; we should always be working on improving in some area and if that is in fitness, fantastic! (Also of critical importance is a moment in the day to put ourselves first!!!) Maybe you have a goal of getting your first pull-up or your first handstand. Maybe you want to be able to back squat your body weight! Maybe you want to be able to perform all the running in a WOD without walking!

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.55.05 PM.png

But, consider this … Many coaches would argue that the drive you experience in Crossfit and the the pursuit of Rx is probably NOT what started your journey toward Crossfit. It was likely that you wanted to improve your life, establish a fitness routine, make friends, lose weight, achieve a specific goal, etc.

Take a step back, and check in with those goals as you establish new ones. Rx is a wonderful goal to strive for … but, there are some pitfalls to prioritizing it over form, recovery, safety and integrity.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.29.05 PM.png

the bad


Ego can influence the choices we make for ourselves. Some common traps we catch athletes in:

this certainly sounds ridiculous when you really think about it

this certainly sounds ridiculous when you really think about it

“I really want to be an Rx athlete, therefore I will be”

“Other people expect me to be an Rx athlete, so I feel pressure to do so”

“I used to be an Rx athlete, so I must continue to be, otherwise, I am regressing in the sport”

The ego can be tricky to manage and when it becomes in control of the choices we make, we can find ourselves acting in ways that we know deep down are not for our best benefit. The ego is not just about arrogance, it is also about whether or not we feel “good enough”. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in our Crossfit athletes. An Rx score seems to give an athlete a sense of ‘validation’ that they are good.

When we get caught in the clutches of our ego, things can turn negative very quickly.

“I’m just not good enough.”

“I SHOULD be better.”

“I wish I was as good as they are.”

“There is no WAY that person can be ahead of me!”

“This WOD is way harder than it should be. What are the coaches thinking?!”

Sadly this is often where shaving reps and embellishing scores can be seen… the focus has shifted from bettering one’s life through fitness and goal setting, to “winning” and this comes at the actual expense of your fitness, your fun, your friends and your integrity.

Furthermore, this “cheating phenomenon” is contagious. Athletes who realize that people are cheating to “score better” will start to do the same and pretty soon it is a snowball of inauthentic behavior.

Please realize: cheating is noticed both by your coaches and by other athletes. If you are an Rx athlete, your coaches look to you to set a standard for the other members - with your skill level, your attitude and your integrity. Be the person you want to be in the gym!!


An Rx workout, as stated above, is something to work for. And, it is an attainable goal for many. However, it should be noted that these workouts can include really high volume, heavy weights, difficult skills, etc. No, going Rx does not lead to injury in all cases. And there are many athletes who earn the ability to work toward the standards of Rx workouts.

See this post for our take on EARNING a movement. But, yes, there are many situations in which an athlete should really think twice about going Rx in order to avoid injury and most certainly when they HAVE an injury.

Again, if you are usually an Rx athlete, it can be hard to scale when needed. Ahh-ckhmm, EGO. But, all too often, we suggest modifications for an athlete (or a patient!!) who is nursing an injury and the next thing we know, they are warming up the Rx weight on a movement they should not be attempting or practicing their uncoordinated and ugly butterfly pull-ups on a bum shoulder.

Why do you do this to yourselves?

Check out  this post  by The Barbell Physio for The Truth About Crossfit Injuries!!

Check out this post by The Barbell Physio for The Truth About Crossfit Injuries!!

Now, it is important to explore the truth about Crossfit injuries and we highly recommend that you give this a read as this is not to say that Crossfit is inherently dangerous. But, always going Rx is likely taking you further away from your fitness goals.

Wait, what!?

For many who are not yet ready for those Rx weights or movements, you are making huge sacrifices to do so. You might be sacrificing form and improvement, you might be too sore to work out as much as you might like, you might risk injury or overuse, or you might not be losing the weight you wanted to lose because you are working at a lesser intensity than you would have when you scaled. You are also likely to get less and less feedback from your coach who sees you blatantly ignoring their advice. Again, this is not to say that you shouldn’t go for the Rx, but we do want to consider things like mechanics and consistency before intensity.

Missing the stimulus

Performing a WOD as Rx can cause us to miss the intended stimulus of the workout in some cases. Pay attention to what the average scores have been that day. Pay attention to what your coach is recommending. Is it meant to be a heavy workout, a fast sprint, a long grind, or a day to work on skill? Your coach can help guide you and they know what you are capable of, maybe more than you do, so ask them!

We all know that person who takes twice as long as everyone else to finish just because they want to do the Rx weight. And we are not referring to the person who has a lesser fitness ability WORKING THEIR ASS OFF to finish, but the person who just can’t quite do the weights or the movements correctly, and time after time ignores the advice of the coaches and misses the intended stimulus of the workout. We should not be overly concerned with the volume or the weight on the bar vs. the intensity of a WOD. Intensity is Crossfit’s intended stimulus. And it should be noted here that there will be times that we see folks sandbagging. We know that they can do the Rx and that they should in order to get to the intended stimulus!! Goes both ways!

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.29.05 PM.png

the ugly

These are the traits that inspired the writing of this blog piece. This is not meant to call folks out but rather to shed light on a real issue around the idea of performing a workout as Rx. Crossfit has so many positive properties and there is simply no place for these behaviors:

When ego takes over and you argue with your coach that you deserve the Rx ranking

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 2.04.20 PM.png

When you think you are typically an Rx athlete, it can feel really bad when you don’t get the Rx next to your name. But, you are likely going to have been given plenty of opportunities to make a change mid-WOD. You might have heard cues like, “get deeper” or “stand up your rep”. This means that you were not doing these things and therefore those reps didn’t count as Rx. If this changes, a coach may choose to Rx you. If you do not make that change, then work needs to be done to achieve that status.

As coaches, we do this to HELP YOU IMPROVE & BE BETTER HUMANS!! Again, as adult humans, it is important to continue to have accountability in our lives and to have coaches and other athletes who wish to see us improve. Regardless, arguing with your coach only demonstrates that you care about what people think of you, not about getting better at Crossfit. A sad reality.

Yes: this is a challenge to consider your mindset around the importance of Rx

When you log Rx anyway (even though your coach did not rank you as such)

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 2.06.28 PM.png

Just because you have the weight on your bar and chose to do the hardest available movement, doesn’t mean you are owed an Rx. Similarly, just because you usually do Rx doesn’t mean that you always will, always can or always have to. Are you just in a habit of logging your score under a certain category? As coaches, we’ve all seen this and had moments of looking at what our athletes logged for their score, thinking, “I didn’t Rx them!?!?”

Pay attention to how your coach is cueing you. We want you to get the best workout you can and we want to be a fair judge of your abilities against other athletes.

When you complain that Rx is unreasonable or unattainable

Its not. But, as noted above, when we deem something as Rx, we are not stating that this should be every athlete’s goal or even that it is recommended. Rx does not make one athlete better than another.

Remember that Rx is merely a measurement rating that we can use to fairly judge one athlete against another and for an athlete to see where they stand against a standard.

If it seems too hard, it is … FOR YOU. And for MOST people! Here is a great article from the Crossfit Games powers that be about why scaling is appropriate for many or even most!!

When you lose your shit because the WOD isn’t going well for you.

Calm down. Don’t quit. It’s literally just working out.

It is much more typical for an Rx athlete to behave this way than it is for a scaled athlete. And it is all in the perspective. A scaled athlete understands the trials and the work that must go in each day. Each day is challenging and possibly filled with dread of certain movements, defeat, no reps, not finishing in the time cap, etc. This is yet another example of ego coming into play. “It should not be this hard for me.” Well, it is … today. And that’s ok. Not every day can be a PR or a whiteboard lead.

take a cue from your scaled friends and then take a chill pill.

Here: a few closing remarks:

this is your journey

When a workout reads Rx, it doesn’t actually matter. Rx is a suggestion. The first day you do a handstand push-up without ab mats is a HUGE milestone and should be celebrated, but that doesn’t mean you will never have to scale a workout again.

Rx is meant to be hard!

Reality check: Crossfit advocates programming Rx for the best athlete in the gym and letting other athletes scale from there. Take a peek at workouts and you will see that they are super challenging.

check in with your goals

Dr. Sarah Haran & Dr. Beth Ansley are both physical therapists AND Crossfit coaches in Seattle, WA!!

Dr. Sarah Haran & Dr. Beth Ansley are both physical therapists AND Crossfit coaches in Seattle, WA!!

We all have different strengths, abilities and goals. Stay tuned in to this. Stop looking around at other athletes and stay focused on YOU. Just a little food for thought from your COACHES at Arrow Physical Therapy. The bottom line is that Rx matters, and it is something to be proud of… but it also doesn’t matter. And it can be a slippery slope when we start to lose sight of our true goals, our integrity, and the reasons behind using the Rx standard! Your coaches are here to guide you through the workout and that includes coming up with an appropriate game plan each time.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.29.05 PM.png